Are you an emotional eater? Eating to fill emotional needs, rather than to fill your stomach? I know that I can be. Who doesn’t feel the urge to tuck into something decadent after a hard day at work, or to treat themselves when they are feeling a bit down in the dumps?
Food is the instant fix, a quick lift that cheers us up and gives us a bit of love in a few bites. Most emotional eaters feel powerless over their food cravings. When the urge to eat hits, it’s all you can think about! But emotional eating can do more harm than good – it all depends on how often you do it and of course, what you’re using as your emotional crutch.
Why is emotional eating so common? Well, I suppose it’s just the fact that food is cheap, easy to find and socially acceptable in a way that chain smoking or knocking back gin and tonic at your desk to keep your spirits up aren’t! Also, there are biological reasons for it; studies have shown that eating sugars and fats is effective at calming us down in times of stress because fatty and sugary foods cause our brains to release opioids. These natural narcotics are similar to the active ingredients in class A drugs like cocaine and heroin, and some prescription and over the counter painkillers.
The calming, soothing effect of a sugar binge kicks in once the ice cream or chocolate cake hits your bloodstream and you feel better without getting a ‘high’ or incapacitating yourself. It’s your little secret and you aren’t giving it up in a hurry. The only trouble is, like opioids, you’ll need more and more over time to have the same effect. And traditional greasy or sugary junk foods won’t do your body any good whatsoever.
What’s the solution?
If emotional eating is becoming an issue for you, it might be something that you’ll have to address. Weight gain, feeling ill and a compulsion to eat more than you need probably mean that your comfort eating has got out of hand. Emotional eating is an effective way for a lot of people to find temporary relief from the stresses and strains of everyday living – if it didn’t work so well, it wouldn’t become a problem, because nobody would do it. Heres a few tips if you are struggling with emotional eating.
- Recognise triggers
What situations, places, or feelings make you reach for the comfort of food? Most emotional eating is linked to unpleasant feelings, but it can also be triggered by positive emotions, such as rewarding yourself for achieving a goal or celebrating a holiday or happy event. Here are some common causes of emotional eating: stress, boredom or feeling empty, childhood habits or social influences.
- Feed your feelings in other ways
Diets so often fail because they usually only offer advice- having knowledge only works if you have conscious control over your eating habits. It doesn’t work when emotions hijack the process, demanding an immediate payoff with food.
In order to stop emotional eating, you have to find other ways to fulfill yourself emotionally. It’s not enough to understand the cycle of emotional eating or even to just understand your triggers. You need alternatives to food that you can turn to for emotional fulfillment. Think of other things you enjoy doing, whether its having a relaxing bath, reading a book or calling a friend.
- Practice mindful eating
- Awareness of your physical and emotional cues
- Awareness of your non-hunger triggers for eating
- Awareness on how you buy, prepare and eat your food
- Choosing foods that give you both enjoyment and nourishment
- Learning to meet your emotional needs in ways other than eating
Alternatively, if your comfort eating is just an occasional pick me up and you really don’t see why you should stop treating yourself to decadent little delicacies after a bad day, there is an alternative to the junk food that’s pushed at us constantly. Even Paleo eaters like to have a little treat now and again and there are so many natural and healthy alternatives to junk food and unhealthy snacks that you could try something new every day.
Look for clean eating and/or Paleo wholefood treats which are dairy-free, and don’t contain any wheat, gluten, soy, grain or refined sugars, and try satisfying your bad mood munchies with something that will do your body good as well as your mood!